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FIT FOR SCHOOL: Summit Preparatory School officials say the vacant Mercy fitness center, 202 E. Walnut Lawn St., is well suited for a student campus.
FIT FOR SCHOOL: Summit Preparatory School officials say the vacant Mercy fitness center, 202 E. Walnut Lawn St., is well suited for a student campus.

City Beat: Summit Prep seeks rezoning for new campus

The target is a vacant Mercy fitness center, currently owned by Youngblood Auto

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The Summit Preparatory School is seeking Springfield City Council approval to rezone a former Mercy fitness center for its new campus.

The independent school has leased space at 2155 W. Chesterfield Blvd. inside Chesterfield Village for seven years from Bob Noble. It was recently transferred to OakStar Bank. With Summit’s lease up, the school wants to relocate to a new home base, officials told councilmembers at the Sept. 5 meeting.

“It’s presented many limitations as far as operating a school and the growth we’ve had, and it has basically zero greenspace,” Summit board President Alison Bauer said  of the Chesterfield Village property used by 150 students.

Summit Prep officials are pursuing the purchase of the former Mercy center that closed in 2015 at 202 E. Walnut Lawn St. The acquisition is contingent on the rezoning. According to Greene County assessor records, John Youngblood’s Westport Management LLC owns the property that has a 2017 taxable appraised value of $2.1 million.

At the council meeting, city Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith presented the first reading bill for the rezoning of 6.2 acres. It’s not the first time council has considered changes to the property.

“Just last year, we rezoned this from a planned development to a highway commercial,” Smith said.

At the time, Youngblood Auto Group sought to expand east and build a garage at the Walnut Lawn parcel and at 3410 S. Campbell Ave., according to Springfield Business Journal archives.

If Summit Prep’s rezoning is approved at the Sept. 18 council meeting, the Walnut Lawn property would be changed to an office district from a highway commercial district, allowing for utilization by a school.

“The existing facilities, both the land and the building, are actually quite well-suited for a school,” said Billy Kimmons, a principal architect at Hood-Rich Inc., who represented Summit before council.

School officials were unable to provide further details of their new campus plans by deadline.

Public protectors
Councilmembers authorized a $654,505 three-year grant by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the purpose of adding seven new entry-level firefighters as full-time employees. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant provides for the salaries and benefits of these positions for three years.

The approval follows a meeting last December, when the Fire Department gave a presentation to council concerning its employment needs, Fire Chief David Pennington said.

Then the department applied for the SAFER grant and was awarded in August.

“These seven positions are the remaining staffing that were required for us to move forward with the opening of Fire Station No. 13 in the west central area,” Pennington said.

The addition of the new firefighters will put the department at 236 positions, he said.

The bill passed unanimously. Councilmembers Tom Prater and Kristi Fulnecky were absent.

Council also unanimously approved a $6,500 grant for the Springfield Police Foundation to purchase a service dog and considered the donation of a Ford E350 commercial box truck for Springfield’s own Operation Polar Cops.

Operation Polar Cops began nine years ago, when the Boston Police Department in Massachusetts partnered with a local ice cream company to create a program for officers to drive through neighborhoods and hand out free treats to foster a sense of community.

“St. Louis copied that about two or three years ago,” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said.

Hiland Dairy already has agreed to provide up to $2,000 of ice cream a year at no cost to the city, Springfield Police spokeswoman Lisa Cox said.

“Polar Cops is our working title. Cold Patrol is what we’re possibly settling on to make us unique in Springfield,” Williams added.

Council plans to vote on the program and the Hiland Dairy partnership Sept. 18.

Clean water
Councilmembers also unanimously approved a $2.5 million budget adjustment in the Environmental Services Department by appropriating fund balance reserves from the Clean Water Enterprise Fund. The adjustment allows for the acceptance of a $2.28 million bid by Crossland Heavy Contractors Inc. for a filter retrofit project at the Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats roughly 35 million gallons of wastewater per day.

Cloth media filters will replace two traveling bridge sand filters and another two in a second phase of the project. The new filters will require fewer backwashes for cleaning, Assistant Environmental Services Director Errin Kemper has told council.

Level property tax
Immediately following a public hearing Aug. 29, council voted 7-1 in favor of asking residents on the Nov. 7 ballot whether to continue the level property tax to pay for unfunded public safety, capital improvements and staffing needs. Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky voted in opposition, and Councilman Richard Ollis was absent.

The city has levied the property tax of 27 cents per $100 of assessed value for years and voters in 1999, 2001 and 2004 renewed the rate with over 75 percent approval, according to city officials.

The property tax has generated about $8.5 million annually, with an estimated 2 percent growth rate a year. The tax rate was last voted on in 2004, and it’s been at or near maximum bonding capacity for several years, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting.


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